CLAYMONT — Student actors at Archmere Academy are turning circumstances that threatened their fall production into an opportunity, one that has them quite excited. The dramatics department will present the William Shakespeare comedy “A Misdummer Night’s Dream” this weekend outside.
English teacher Brian Manelski, who directs the school’s stage productions, said the school managed to turn this into a positive. For Manelski, it is the first time in his 30 years of teaching high school theater — half of those at Archmere — that it will be done outside.
“At the very beginning of this, I told the kids who were auditioning that there was a 40 percent chance we’re doing it outside, a 40 percent chance we’re doing it on Zoom, and a slight chance that the show might not run,” he said earlier this week.
The students said they wanted to be with their friends instead of performing virtually. So, for the past several weeks, they’ve been rehearsing in the school’s formal garden, located between the science building and the Patio. It’s been a learning experience for all of them.
“This is kind of fun, dealing with, okay, ‘Where do you get changed?’ ‘How do you deal with ambient noise like a helicopter flying by?’ It’s kind of a neat experience,” Manelski said.
“I picked a comedy just so we could have fun with it whether the show ran or not.”
Speakers will be set up so helicopters should not be a problem for anyone watching in person. Three shows are scheduled: Friday at 4 p.m., and Saturday at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. The final show will be live-streamed on the school’s YouTube channel. Audience members are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets. The number of people who can attend will be limited, and masks are required. There is no cost to attend, but donations to the Archmere Drama Club are suggested.
The cast members are ready to go al fresco, with spectators spread out on the grass in front of the “stage,” which includes an empty fountain and a statue of the Blessed Mother in addition to flowers and some small trees. Senior Alexis Rendel said she never doubted that they would have a play.
“I always thought, ‘We’re going to find something, and we’ll figure something out.’ The idea of not having a play is definitely a little sad because it means a lot to everyone here,” said Rendel, who plays Hermia.
The cast has gotten used to wearing masks while rehearsing in the late-summer heat. Rendel said it’s a bit less taxing than wearing one while playing a sport. Junior Ella Bellace, who plays Demetrius, said one drawback to wearing the face coverings is that “facial expressions are much harder because a lot of it depends on your whole face. You have to do a lot more with body language.”
Katie Yakovenko said she believes “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a play that belongs outdoors because it takes place in a forest. The fountain and benches add to the ambience of the set, she said.
“In this beautiful garden surrounded by flowers, it adds a lot to it. I usually design the sets for the show, but I don’t have to do that this year because everything’s already here,” said Yakovenko, a senior who will be portraying Helena.
As for the play itself, senior Annalise Tonn said there are three distinct groups in the play. Everyone has an important role, such as hers as beatnik Peter Quince, and “it’s kind of cool how everything comes together in the end.”
There are 21 people in the cast. Tonn, a veteran of Archmere theater, wears black throughout, so she’s felt the heat a little more than others during the warmer rehearsals. She said she hasn’t had too much trouble navigating the benches and fountain, although Manelski said one student almost went in the waterless fountain. The location was selected because it offered a bit of shade during hot summer rehearsals, but the students came to favor the location.
Manelski said Archmere used to have an outdoor Shakespeare festival on the steps of the Patio, so this production will tie into a past school tradition. Senior Gianna Abbrescia — who is the conniving sprite and servant Puck — can’t wait to perform for an audience that includes more than the cast.
“I think everyone should come out and watch because, well, it’s free admission. That’s obviously great. This entire aspect of Shakespeare in the park that we’re trying to do here, it will be a whole different type of show. Just to come out, lay on blankets, very relaxed and come see this amazing show with this amazing scenery. It’s just so natural,” she said.